7 June : The West Bengal government on Sunday conceded that there were inadequacies in reaching relief to remote areas devastated by Cyclone Aila and said it was considering stepping up efforts to improve the delivery system.Briefing newspersons after a nearly two-hour all-party meeting, boycotted by main opposition Trinamool Congress, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said the parleys were “successful”.
Bhattacharjee said his Left Front government was in constant touch with the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the centre and stressed the need for centre-state joint effort to tackle the calamity.
However, the Congress and some other parties objected to the government giving details of the extent of the devastation and the relief efforts only at the meeting and not in advance. This prompted the government to convene another all-party meeting 14th June on the issue.
The meeting at the state secretariat was held 13 days after Cyclone Aila tore through the state 25th May, levelling houses, uprooting trees, snapping power cables and leaving a trail of destruction in 13 of West Bengal’s 19 districts.
So far 137 deaths have been reported while nearly 600,000 houses suffered damages in the calamity which has affected over 8.7 million people.
To a query whether holding the all-party meeting sans the Trinamool was not akin to playing Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark, the chief minister shot back: “Ask the prince why it has not come. We are doing our work. If they don’t come that’s unfortunate. I think it would have been better had they come. But we can’t wait.”
“We circulated two papers. One was on the extent of damages, deaths, number of people affected, crop land destroyed etc. The other was a summary of the memorandum we have submitted to the centre demanding a Rs.10 billion grant,” he said.
“During the second meeting, the parties can give their views on our notes,” Bhattacharjee said.
He said all the parties including the Congress mentioned the shortcomings in reaching relief to the far-flung areas. “This we are considering. We are thinking on a plan to improve the relief efforts in the ground level.”
The parties also asked the government to ensure that there was no political partisanship in giving relief.
“We have to rise above narrow political affiliations. All parties need to join hands,” he said.
Bhattacharjee said his government was working in coordination with central ministries like home and finance.
Asked whether the state government was also coordinating with the railway ministry headed by Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee, he said the union home ministry was the nodal department on such issues.
“The finance ministry is also very important. We are coordinating with them. But we want cooperation from all.”
State Congress working president Subrata Mukherjee, who led his party’s two-member delegation at the deliberations, criticised the government for calling the meeting so late and at a very short notice.
“On 5th June only we came to know of the meeting. And why are they calling it so late? And the government did not even care to inform us in advance about the steps they have taken and the magnitude of the tragedy,” Mukherjee said.
He said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi were gravely concerned about the cyclone damages, and have assured full cooperation to the state.
“In fact, (the state’s) Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta admitted at the meeting that the state government has received unprecedented help form the centre,” he said.
Mukherjee claimed that the chief minister himself was not “totally happy” with the relief operations, and had admitted loopholes in relief distribution.
“He conceded that the repair of breached embankments in the Sundarbans was not complete. He said 75 percent of work has been done. But I doubt it.
“But it’s a matter of regret and pain that the state government has not been serious in tackling the tragedy. As a result, people are suffering,” he said, alleging there were reports of the government adopting a partisan approach in distributing relief.